By Paul Reilly

Thirty-three hours in the car, 2200+ miles driven, 20 bathroom stops, too many bags of pork rinds, 15 Diet Cokes, and three different hotels —you guessed it—it’s the Reilly family road trip. The trip was amazing, filled with fun, family, and plenty of laughs. However, I made a minor mistake early on in this trip.

I surprised the family by staying at the beautiful, luxurious Waldorf Astoria Orlando. It was going great, and it kept getting better. We received a complimentary upgrade to a spacious, lavish, two-bedroom King suite. The suite was phenomenal, complete with a balcony, California King, and mini bar (much needed after a day in Disney).

You’re probably thinking, “So, what’s the mistake?”

Well, we knew it had to end. A couple of days later, we checked out of The Waldorf and checked in to reality. Our next hotel was nice, but it wasn’t the Waldorf. The room was a little cozier. The accommodations were good (but not great). I thought to myself, “I miss the Waldorf.” We all did.

What changed? Why was the second hotel feeling second rate?

It was our expectation. Our expectations were anchored to the premier brand. The Waldorf set the new benchmark. That’s why we were slightly disappointed with the second hotel.

Consider this…Would customers view you as the Waldorf or the second hotel? What if you could set a new benchmark in your industry? It’s possible when you embrace a value-added mindset.

Customer expectations are the true benchmarks of satisfaction. That’s why it’s common to under promise and over deliver. But that’s a mistake. Under promising is dangerous for two reasons. First, how do you sell mediocrity? It sounds like this: “Mr. Buyer, I know you have choices, but I assure you that we are the most AVERAGE. At the very least, I guarantee you won’t be completely dissatisfied with our solution. Trust me. It’s tolerable.” Who could sell that? Who would buy it?

Secondly, consider the damaging impact of under promising. People rise or fall to the expectations set. Robert Rosenthal showed the link between performance and expectations in his research of the Pygmalion effect. He found that high expectations led to high performance, and low expectations led to low performance. Constantly under promising means you’ll eventually fall to that expectation. Low expectations limit your capacity to create value.

Rather than lower expectations, raise them. Make big promises and deliver. When you raise the bar, you become the benchmark. Here are three ideas to get you started.

  1. Clearly define what customers expect from you. You can only exceed the expectations of which you are aware. Ask your customer, “What do you expect from us throughout this process?” Whatever they tell you, go above and beyond. Ask the customer, “What outcomes do you expect to achieve?” Ask customers what they expect in the different phases of their buying process: pre-sale, transition, and post-sale usage phase. Clear expectations clarify the benchmark.
  2. Reinforce your value. Highlight the hidden ways you bring value throughout the experience. Inform the buyer of the unique ways you add value throughout the experience. This invokes a self-fulfilling prophecy; customers notice what they’re prompted to see. Every noticeable touchpoint of value sets a new benchmark.
  3. Highlight your value-added strengths. Establish your value-added strengths as the benchmark criteria. Whatever is focal is deemed valuable and important. As buyers compare alternatives utilizing your strengths, it’s easier for you to stand out.

Expectations are the true benchmarks of satisfaction. High expectations create an opportunity to elevate the customer’s experience. Use these ideas to establish your company as the benchmark in the industry. And don’t be afraid to dream big. As Conrad Hilton (the Waldorf Astoria founder) said, “To achieve big things, you have to have big dreams.” Dream bigger and extend your capacity to create value.

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